Since a lot of people seem to have trouble with the idea of “political correctness,” I thought I’d post a short guide to what it means to be politically correct. You know, so everyone can be on the same page as far as what people are complaining about. It’s a short list. “Political correctness” means simply that you
- Understand and agree that merely being different is not, in itself, doing anyone any harm, and
- Recognize that it’s wrong to punish people who are doing no harm, even if they are different.
And that’s it. That’s what all the fuss is about. When people complain about political correctness, as if it were some kind of horrible tyranny, what they’re saying is that they object to one or both of these elementary moral principles. Take LGBT rights for example. Gay people fall in love differently than hetero people do. But being different is not doing anyone any harm. It’s just different. Trans people have a different relationship with their bodies than cis people do. But again, this is doing no harm to anyone. Asexuals feel differently about sex in general—harmlessly.
The same goes for other types of differences: racial, ethnic, political, religious, economic, and on and on. Each person is different from every other person that exists, in one way or another. These differences do not constitute any harm being done to anyone else, and therefore people do not deserve to be punished just for having these differences.
By “punishment,” of course, I’m referring to the full range of penalties that people like to impose on each other just because of their differences. It’s not just the extremes of beatings and torture and imprisonment and death that too often are imposed on innocent people. It’s also the more casual punishments of presumptive inferiority, the innuendo, the thoughtless liberties taken at other people’s expense. And everything in between.
Political correctness has been around for a long time, but it hasn’t always gone by that name. In earlier generations we had other terms that meant more or less the same thing. Terms like “human decency,” and “common courtesy.” We used to admire people who could overlook harmless differences and be good to one another. It used to ennoble us, and made the world a better place.
That’s what people are complaining about when they sneer at political correctness. That’s what the haters are hating. But it’s a good thing, and the world needs more of it.